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Champion Roundtable Recap

Author: Russ Aikman

Posted: February 2020

In January TMAC hosted our 4th Annual Lean Six Sigma Deployment Champion Roundtable. The Roundtable is a 1.5 day mini-conference focused on the goals, challenges, activities, and successes of individuals leading a Lean Six Sigma Program. At this year’s Roundtable we had representatives of 13 different companies. Our vision is for the Roundtable to be a smaller, more exclusive event to allow participants an opportunity to get to know others facing similar challenges, and to share best practices. Another goal is to share new and less well-known tools and methods in addition to a fresh perspective on existing approaches. Here are some of my key takeaways from this event:

Kristine Bradley (Firefly Consulting) discussed Getting Started with Big Data. She began by comparing “Little Data” to “Big Data”, noting the latter allow larger sample sizes, more variables, and the opportunity to model complex interactions. She also said choosing a specific tool in Data Analytics can be subjective in nature, and there is a risk of over-fitting. Applications in LSS ranged from healthcare (reducing hospital readmissions) to manufacturing (improving process control) to financial services (decreasing loan default rates).  Kristine’s five step approach to data analytics: (1) Identify the Business Need, (2) Get Data (Perform Data Mining), (3) Develop a Predictive Model, (4) Perform Prediction, (5) Determine Key Business Insights. She then noted data preparation is ‘astonishingly difficult’ – obtaining the data, validating the data, etc. Finally, she concluded that incorporating Data Analytics into a LSS Program would vary from firm to firm depending on the current skillset among your staff.

Joel Smith (Keurig Dr Pepper) spoke about The Evolution of RCI Training at Keurig Dr Pepper. He began with a short history of the continuous improvement program at Dr. Pepper and how it had changed since the merger with Keurig. Like most programs, they initially had a centralized group providing traditional classroom training for BBs and GBs. Over time other training was added including Developing Leader (a class to equip managers with key LSS tools to aid them in day-to-day activities). In 2019 Joel and his team took a step back to assess their training methods. A kaizen event was scheduled to aid in this. Feedback from past students was examined and a formal review conducted of completed projects to determine what tools were actually being used. A brainstorming session was used to decide which tools were appropriate for different classes, to what level, etc. Some of the changes implemented: (a) Using actual, real-world data for exercises instead of ‘clean’ data, (b) Asking students to bring data from their projects for use during class, (c) Incorporating more hands-on practice with tools and an actual improvement activity, and (d) Updating the materials to address software discrepancies and tools found to be most useful.

We also heard from a panel of executives made up of Tom Sanderson (Transplace), Chris Lawson (Exactus, formerly with USG Corporation), and Will McDade (Interstate Batteries). They shared lessons learned as leaders of LSS Programs over many years from the perspective of the executive suite. When asked about the senior executive’s role to support a Lean Six Sigma program the group cited activities including establishing goals and policies, aiding in project selection, commitment to finding the right people, and holding people accountable for results. Tom noted that finding the right people meant to select the BBs (best and brightest) and not the AAs (average and available). He also mentioned a goal of ‘never letting a project have a birthday’.  Will said lean is about creating a culture of breakthrough results with employee-led change. And until you have 100% market share and 0% cost you still have opportunity. He also shared that relatively small rewards and recognition can have a big effect on buy-in. Chris mentioned the importance of setting aside time for coaching of new and even experienced belts. He also stressed respecting everyone involved in the CI program, from the front-line staff to GBs and BBs to plant managers to the executive suite. 

One challenge faced by all mature LSS Programs is how to continue improving processes after all the ‘low-hanging fruit’ is gone. Kurt Middelkoop (TMAC) offered a new way to think about waste reduction with An Integrated Approach to Seeing More. He began with a review of lean basics, and noted he prefers ‘Opportunity to Add More Value’ instead of ‘Non-Value Added’. The areas he covered beyond traditional lean wastes included environmental, energy, and safety wastes. He shared examples of environmental wastes involving water, garbage, materials, transportation, and emissions. Some of the solutions he offered to reduce water usage included low flow nozzles, repairing leaks, and using filtered tap rather than bottled water. In terms of garbage he promoted a zero waste program and recycling materials. One firm recycled 20 tons of wood spacers that had been thrown away in the past, resulting in savings of  $25k per year. Another company recycled gloves, reducing their costs by $18k annually. In another case an environmental issue prompted a solution that increased production by 300%. Solutions to energy waste included more efficient lighting, turning off unused equipment, and fixing air leaks. Kurt cited financial impacts of 5 to 20% depending on the improvement. Though not large, such improvements add up when combined.

The final presentation was from Steve White (Brain Performance Institute, UT-Dallas) whose talk was titled Kaizen for your Brain. Steve started by noting the negative impact of stress on workplace efficiency, with an estimated cost of $300B per year of work-related stress in the U.S. One big source of stress: Multitasking, which also makes you more error prone and leads to shallower thinking. Yet another source of mental waste: Distractions, which are estimated to cost $10M per year for a company of 1,000 people. Steve ended his talk with three methods to improve brain health. First, each day focus on only two top priorities. These should be ones which can be completed in 45 minutes, require higher order thinking, and which ‘move the needle forward’. Second, eliminate multitasking and instead focus on one task at a time. Related to this idea – block out distractions and unimportant information. Third – set aside five minutes, five times per day, to recharge your cognitive energy. These mini-breaks are key to your brain health, and allow you to step back from the workaday world to regenerate.

We look forward to the 5th Annual LSS Champion Roundtable in January 2021!


More about Russ Aikman:

Russ is the LSS Program Manager at TMAC, and started the program in 2003. He is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 30 years of experience working in a wide variety of industries, and with small firms up to Fortune 500 companies. He has taught dozens of LSS classes from Yellow Belt up to Master Black Belt. He has also coached hundreds of LSS practitioners on their projects and advised managers on their LSS program. Before joining TMAC he worked at George Group, the first firm to integrate Lean and Six Sigma.

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